Rodney Presbyterian Church | Jefferson County, Mississippi | c. 1832
An intrepid wanderer ends up at the end of a long dirt road and stands before this grand building. While many have visited and passed through these doors, you notice distinct silence on this solitary edge of civilization.
Standing in front of the church, you would be only 300 feet from where the Mississippi River used to flow. And while the course of the river (and indeed the town and church) has changed, periodic flooding will bring the river back to the front door of this old place. Indeed, The course of the river has threatened the stability of this town and church for xx years.
No matter how isolated this place is, it has managed to garner some big attention throughout the years from the likes of Eudora Welty and more recently, an active group of preservationists who have come to love Rodney from afar.
Let’s talk a bit about the history of this fascinating church and town so you too can see why its so special.
This Presbyterian Church sits in the Ghost Town of Rodney, MS in Jefferson County. At one point, this bustling community supported three churches, hotels, stores, and many homes. The town fell fate to many events that rendered it isolated and most of inhabitants have moved away over the years as jobs dwindled away. You can read more about the history of the town HERE.
Built in 1832, Rodney Presbyterian is Mississippi’s most distinct surviving Federal style church. At one time, it sat just 300 feet from the rivers edge that was vital to the growth of this river town. At its height, the town of Rodney was the busiest port for steamships traveling from St. Louis to New Orleans. At this time, nearly 4,000 residents resided in this town that had grown to support 3 churches, 35 stores, hotels, and many homes.
But Rodney would fall victim to many fires over the years (1839, 1852, 1869) leaving this church as the only building still standing from the pre-fire days of old Rodney. The other buildings standing today (Mt. Zion, Masonic Lodge, and homes) were built after the fires.
Besides fires, the Civil War, and the changing course of the Mississippi would create obstacles that Rodney couldn’t overcome and most people moved away to find work elsewhere. In more recent years, flooding has endangered the future of Rodney.
Rodney Presbyterian + The Civil War
To add even more intrigue to the story of this remarkable building, it was the site of an honest-to-goodness Civil War skirmish that could have been ripped from a screenplay.
By 1863, the Civil War was raging in Mississippi and Rodney felt the impact. Located about 50 miles down river from Vicksburg, they saw their share of battle here in this time capsule of a town.
After the fall of Vicksburg on July 4, 1863, the Union Navy was left in charge of the Mississippi River. The gunboat Rattler was stationed in Rodney to monitor activity in this important port town. As the story goes, the Union men liked to line the decks of the boat on Sunday mornings to watch the Southern Belles in their large gowns going to and from church. While they were instructed to not leave the ship, 24 of them decided to break orders and on September 12, 1863, accepted the invitation of the Reverend Baker of Rodney Presbyterian Church Pastor to join them for services. As hymns were being sung, a Confederate calvary men arose and announced (after apologizing to Reverend Baker) that his men had surrounded the building and for the Yankee sailors to surrender.
Shots ensued inside the church and many congregants hid behind pews for cover. The crew that remained on the Rattler heard the noise and fired a canon on the church. But the Confederates had the advantage that day capturing 17 prisoners (including the Rattlers Lieutenant and Captain). The crew would live in infamy as the only ironclad gunboat ever taken down by calvary.
Rodney Post-Civil War
The cotton trade was significantly impacted across the South and Rodney felt it too. But the greatest blow to this small town in this era was dealt by Mother Nature herself. In 1869, locals noticed a sandbar that started to form near Rodney Landing and before 1870 was through, the Mississippi had permanently changed course- no longer reaching Rodney. This quickly cut Rodney out of what remained of the river trade and created a chasm that the town simply couldn’t cross. Business owners and families began to move away to find work elsewhere. The town became largely abandoned by the early 1900s in 1923, the Presbyterian Church lost its full time pastor. Rodney was unincorporated by the state of Mississippi in the 1930s.
Rodney Presbyterian Through the Years
In 1966, the Presbyterian Church transferred ownership of this church to the United Daughter’s of the Confederacy, but the church sat empty and suffered from a lack of upkeep. The foundation began sagging, the roof began leaking, and significant structural issues began to appear.
It sat like this in disrepair for many years while legal issues were sorted out and to make matters worse, the area has been impacted by significant flooding in the past decade.
Although the waters have never made it into the sanctuary here (like they have at the nearby Baptist Church), these waters threaten the future of this already endangered site.
Rodney Presbyterian Today
“Never think you’ve seen the last of anything”
Eudora’s words ring so true here in Rodney today and like a phoenix, it seems that at least a part of Rodney’s important history has a chance to be raised from the proverbial ashes. Although there are two remaining churches in Rodney (both antebellum and both on the National Register), the Presbyterian Church is the focus of current restoration efforts which is in need of emergency repairs and then longer structural repairs as well.
In the Fall of 2018, ownership was finally transferred to a group of motivated individuals dedicated to preserving this historic treasure. The Rodney History + Preservation Society is raising awareness, and more importantly funds, to save this church and they need your help! This group is led by a dedicated board including Angel Puckett and Mary Duck Pallon (who is the granddaughter of the last preacher, Allen Duck) at Rodney Presbyterian.
They are currently working to get to a $31k fundraising goal which will then be matched by a private investor. The immediate funds will go to emergency stabilization of the building. There is also a cemetery church clean-up scheduled for February 3, 2019.
You can help by making a tax deductible donation here!
You can also purchase Rodney related prints from me. Between now and March 1, 2019, 50% of all prints purchases will be donated to the Rodney History + Preservation Society.
Rodney has a long and storied Ministerial past that included some very dedicated churchmen.
Starting with Rev. Chamberlain who founded the church in 1829 on land donated by Plantation owner David Hunt. At the time, Chamberlain also served as president of nearby Oakland College (now Alcorn State).
This church was also served from 1852-1862 by Rev. Price who was paid $1,000 per year for his services. And finally by Rev. Duck, who was the last permanent minister here in the 1930s. It is Rev. Duck’s granddaughter, Mary Duck Pallon, who is one of the leaders of the initiative to restore this place.
You can read a more complete ministerial record HERE
The Rodney Cemetery
One of the most compelling features of this property is the cemetery that sits just past the church, up the river bluffs that once overlooked the Mississippi. Overgrown and difficult to access, this cemetery is in great need of restoration. With xxx interments, some more than xxx years old, certainly this place is deserving of preservation.
One of the biggest obstacles to this preservation effort is that the bluffs have become a den for venemous Timber Rattler snakes. In fact, in 2015, a photographer and her husband visited the church and he was struck by one of these snakes. In the Summer months, they become more active and have been known to be aggressive towards humans so upkeep in the Summer months is dangerous at best. Local legend has it that these snakes love to eat the wild hogs that roam the banks of the river so they have adapted to hunting them by learning not to rattle (which would scare the hogs away) making them more dangerous to humans that your typical rattlesnake.
If you’re interested in helping save the history of Rodney, there is a cemetery cleanup on February 3rd, 2019 (during the cold months when snakes aren’t active). People of all abilities are invited to come as there are plenty of tasks that anyone can help with (*NO CHILDREN PLEASE). You can find more information by joining the Facebook group, Rodney History + Preservation Society.
Getting to Rodney
THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND
All of Rodney is Private Property and as such, you should not go inside or step foot onto any properties. If you choose to trespass, you are doing so at your own risk and you should be advised that most of these buildings are in poor structural condition. Please enjoy these places from the road.
Getting to Rodney is no quick task but the reward is well worth it. I prefer to use Natchez as my base to explore this area which gives me access to all kinds of wonderful history as well as food and stores. In most cases, these roads are passable by a regular car. As always, be aware of weather conditions before you set out as heavy rains can dramatically impact road conditions.
Cell signal can be spotty here depending on your carrier so plan ahead. Most cars will be able to make it down the road to Rodney, but it does get muddy sometimes and has potholes all the time, so if you have the chance to drive an SUV or truck, we greatly recommend doing so.
Rodney is well looked after so although it may seem empty, trust me- there are locals who are keeping a watchful eye.
Rodney is well-known as the home of venemous snakes. During the warm months, it is VERY highly recommended that you not pass through tall/overgrown grass, and especially avoid the cemetery as these river bluffs are known to have copperhead and cottonmouth snake dens. They can become aggressive during warm months! If you have a pet with you (especially small dogs), definitely do not get out of the car.
There are no restrooms or conveniences for quite a distance from Rodney so please plan ahead by bringing water.